Homeowners spend a lot of time picking paint colors. What most of us don't realize is picking the right paint finish, like a satin paint finish, is just as important. That's not easy with six or more different types of finishes (eight at the Sherwin Williams store shown here).
Buying house paint really involves three decisions:
- Paint colors that fit your personality and decorating style.
- Paint finishes that absorb the light and hold up to the wear and tear for the space you're painting.
- Paint quality that gives you good coverage in one or two coats of paint.
And don't forget to put as much care into picking the finish and paint quality you select. You'll find a paint finish guide below to help sort out what finish you need. That's because even minor differences between a flat or matte paint finish can change the feeling you get in the room.
Paint Terminology Worth Learning
Buying paint is simple, right? Not really because you've got to pick your colors, your paint finish and calculate how much paint to buy. Here's what my friend Maria's living room (above) looked like as she tested different paint colors. She worked really hard on color selection which you can see on two of the three test walls. Here's what she did to pick her finishes:
- Maria shared her final paint choice. It's Sherwin-Willimas modern grey (SW 7632).Ceilings are white with a flat finish. Maria feels that combination is perfect because it makes the eight foot ceilings feel as tall as her old nine foot ceilings.
- Walls are satin because her painter said a satin paint finish is more forgiving than flat paint. While her old house with plaster walls used a flat finish, he said satin would cover up the drywall imperfections better. The painter said her test colors all had a satin paint finish and … she liked the look!
- Trim is semi-gloss with the color matching her white kitchen cabinets. The cabinet door shown above is the one that Maria carried everywhere for several months to make sure all her new “whites” played nicely together.
Paint's Light Reflectance Value
What's all the fuss about? Paint finishes affect how we see color. That's because the paint sheen is the glossiness of a paint finish. A flat or matte paint finish doesn't reflect a lot of light, instead diffusing the light in many directions. At the other end of the spectrum, shiny paints like gloss and semi-gloss, reflect the most light. The light reflected affects how we see the color.
Design professionals use the Light Reflectance Value (LRV) to understand how much visible and usable light is reflected from a surface, in all directions. It's a bit confusing because colors have an LRV regardless of the paint finish (more research needed). Interior colors typically have an LRV of 50 percent or higher, especially when you're trying to brighten up a room with minimal or no sunlight.
For those who want to learn more about the LRV of paint colors, you need to visit Lori Sawaya's website. There's an entire article on Light Reflectance Value which is where I found the wonderful LRV scale above. There's an abundance of painting tips to help you pick the right paint colors and finishes for your home.
Paint Finishes Affect How We See Color
Unless you're an interior designer, decorator or professional painter, it's hard to understand the different types of finishes. The easiest difference is how durable each paint finish is over time. Finishes also affect how much light is absorbed or reflected off the painted surface. Learning about today's finishes offers three benefits to the savvy homeowner picking paints.
- Hiding imperfections in your home's walls and trim is easier with the right paint finish.
- Washability is determined by your choice of paint finish, especially when there are little ones at home. A common question is eggshell paint washable? Yes, eggshell is easier to clean than a flat finish but use a gentle touch.
- Durability increases with finishes that are glossy because they contain a higher ratio of adhesive binder that solidifies into a solid surface.
- Different types of finishes absorb/reflect light differently, which affects how you see the color.
Flat or matte paint doesn't reflect light which is why they're perfect for masking imperfections in your walls. A satin paint finish is slightly more reflective than eggshell, giving walls a silky finish that has a slight glow.
Different finishes also wear differently, so picking the right sheen will make it easier to keep your walls looking good for years to come. You'll want to use different finishes for different rooms depending on the amount of activity that occurs in each room. The higher the sheen, the easier to clean!
A paint's sheen or gloss level is usually chosen based on the requirements for durability. The higher gloss a paint is, the harder the finish. Harder finishes are better at withstanding wear and tear. At the other end of the spectrum are flat paints. The surface of flat paint is more porous so it can trap dirt and be more difficult to clean.
Nolan Painting offers and important tip that you might not know. “Finishes vary among paint manufacturers, so be sure to test exactly the paint you are interested into evaluate its reflectivity. One manufacturer’s eggshell is another’s satin, so check that the paint you select has the appearance you desire.”
How Many Paint Finishes are There?
First we'll review the pros and cons of each type of paint – high gloss, gloss, semi-gloss, satin, eggshell and matte finishes plus flat paint. Don't be surprised if you find the store where you're shopping has more or fewer types of finishes. Sherwin Williams has eight finishes while Dunne Edwards has seven types of paint finish. My favorite Dunne Edwards paint finish, at least the name … is “velvet”.
The table below (and infographic) will make it easier for you to select your finishes easier. If you want to learn even more about how much light each paint finish reflect, ApartmentTherapy.com has a nice article.
- High gloss paint – offer the highest sheen and the hardest finish making them easy to clean. At the same time they reflect light and reveal every surface imperfection making them difficult to apply well (hint: leave this paint to the pros). High gloss paint is good for areas exposed to heavy traffic and prone to fingerprints. High gloss paints are also good for accent trim you want to make pop.
- Semi-gloss paints – are less reflective than high-gloss paints and offer good resistance to stains. They're a good choice with small children, e.g. for hallways and playrooms.
- Satin finishes – have a softer sheen and won't glare like high-gloss and semi-gloss paints. They are still washable and fairly durable, making them practical to use throughout the house.
- Eggshell paint – has a soft sheen, like an egg. This paint finish works well for walls but not trim around doors, windows, etc. You can wash eggshell paints without harming the surface using a mild cleaning solution and a soft cloth.
- Matte paint finish – is non-reflective which allows them to conceal surface imperfections better than other paints.
- Flat paints – are fine for ceilings and low-traffic areas like bedrooms. Flat finishes are also useful where walls are rough or damaged, as they'll hide these imperfections better than any other paint finish.
|Room||Types of Paint Finishes||Requirements|
|Kitchen||Satin or Semi-gloss||Washable & durable paint for areas subject to dirt, grease and moisture.|
|Bathrooms||Satin or Semi-gloss||Washable & durable paint for areas subject to dirt, grease and especially bathroom moisture.|
|Hallways||Satin||Washable & minimize how much dirt the paint picks up.|
|Dining/Living Rooms||Eggshell or Satin||Eggshell has a rich look but minimal washability; Satin has a richer look and more washability than Eggshell.|
|Family Rooms||Satin or Semi-gloss||Satin has washability while semi-gloss is very washable. Either is perfect for high traffic areas exposed to dirt, grease and moisture.|
|Bedrooms||Eggshell||Washable and minimizes dirt pick-up.|
|Ceilings||Flat||Minimizes visibility of surface imperfections.|
|Trim/Baseboards||Gloss or Semi-gloss||Provides a strong, washable surface.|
Note: No discussion about oil versus latex paints has been included here as there are numerous problems with oil paints and many states no longer allow their sale. The pros and cons of oil and latex paints:
- Latex paints – dry quickly, only need water for thinning and cleanup and have fewer fumes and odors than oil-based paints
- Oil paints – provide an extremely durable finish BUT they dry slowly, require mineral spirits for thinning and cleanup and have strong, smelly fumes.
Here are some of our more popular articles to help you when painting your house:
- Painting a Room & Picking Colors that Wow!
- Painting Mistakes You Don’t Want to Make
- Painting Tips for Homeowners … and Pro Painting Tips
- Best Painting Tools to Save Time & Money
- Painting Cleanup: Learning From the Pros
This is still helpful in 2022! Rehabbing an old house (most of the walls will be new) high ceilings and big windows. Hearing that eggshell will give a warmer feeling than the satin was fabulous. This article has made decisions on paint finish in each room much easier.
My only other comment is I’m not a fan of white ceilings. I was planning on 50% dove white (the wood trim color throughout the house) and 50% of the wall color (wall will be light such as ballet white, Navajo white, etc).
Bonnie, You obviously understand there are 100s of white colors to pick from and I’m curious as to why you don’t like white ceilings?
Gray confusion! I currently have SW Agreeable Gray in my house. I was considering Modern / Repose / or Mindful Gray for my next house. The living area faces North (U.S.) and can be a little dark. Any preference? Also need to chose a coordinating trim and kitchen cabinet white color.
Dee, Yes, it can be confusing to pick paint colors but don’t be fooled by the names. Once I got the paint chips from Sherwin Williams, it was obvious that one of the 2 popular (Repose & Agreeable) grays was warm (Agreeable) while the other was a cool gray (Repose). As I planned to decorate with a blue theme, I picked Repose for it’s cool look (you can see my colors here).
Dee, Generally I like to use the same white throughout the house for trim – doors, windows & baseboard. I also don’t think there are many white color choices for cabinets unless you’re going with custom cabinets? I went with white & love the look (here are my cabinets).
I live in a house thats doesn’t get much natural sunlight (I live in England!). What paint would you advise to use when painting woodwork ie skirtings, spindles and windowsills? My decorator is keen to use eggshell but I think satin would be better.
Please help as I am driving myself nuts trying to make a decision!
Suzanne, If your walls are in really good condition & your room/personality are bold … then go ahead with the satin which has a slightly higher sheen than eggshell. If the walls have imperfections that can’t be removed during painting prep, you might be happier with the eggshell which will hide more problems. Also it depends on the mood you’re trying to create in the room as eggshell is softer for a warm, comfortable feeling.
In fact I’d suggest you ask your decorator why she thinks eggshell is the best finish. You might be surprised and agree with her once you know her rationale.
fix wix in ae
Nice tips for painting and tips and how to pick paint.
Wow, this is the first comment I’ve gotten from the UAE … and looks like your home repairs are very similar to those in the US
Can you help me decide on which paint is better: Sherwin Williams Emerald or Pro Mar. One is matte & the other is eggshell. I am wanting to paint walls everywhere like family, kitchen, bedrooms, living dining. Which is recommended. I get differing views from painters about eggshell and matte. But to choose one is very confusing. I would like good quality paint which will last a long time and we have small children. Any advice will be appreciated.
Paras, With small children I’d go with a harder paint finish. Matte is the same as flat paint so eggshell will hold up a little better with kids. I’d suggest you read Paint Finishes: Matte, Eggshell, Satin, Gloss? as I’d even go up to a satin finish for your hallways.
What do u suggest for a white living room. I like a bright cheery room . Do u suggest matte or satin, sun does come in the window to part of the room and three lamps in room . And do you suggest satin or gloss for bathroom with shower in it ? Thank u ?
A satin finish will be shinier than a matte finish, and it will reflect sunshine more … which can be great if you want to make the room feel brighter. If however, you have too much sunlight, it might be a little overwhelming if you spend time in this room during the day.
Satin or semi-gloss are recommended for bathrooms, to help them resist water damage from humidity in the air.
This is all awesome information about paint finishes. I did not know that flat paint can be used to mask imperfections. The more glossier the paint is the more durable the paint will be is another thing I didn’t know. I have always used semi gloss because you can actually clean the wall off. Thanks for sharing the information.
I Pinned this because I’m totally clueless about paint and want to redo some stuff in my home soon. Thanks for breaking down the different types for us home improvement newbies.
Missy, Everyone has to start somewhere & I actually go back to this chart (or it’s scribbled predecessor to avoid making mistakes). If you get to the paint store (not a box store), you can also ask them for advice because they’re pretty knowledgeable. Good luck & don’t forget it all starts with prepping surfaces to be painted.
Wow, I learned a lot about paint here. I never knew there were so many different finishes!
Very helpful with the infographics. Always had a hard time picking the right colors for some specific areas or things inside the house or the office. Very informative post.
Wow Tina, what a great understandable explanation of paint. I always have a hard time figuring out what finish to use where. This article and the chart you created has given me a much better understanding. Thanks so much for writing this.
These are great tips! Honestly, I had no idea what the difference was!
This is really informative. I didn’t know all of these different things, so when we get ready to paint our house, this will be really helpful.
This is perfect! I always wonder what kind of paint to purchase for my projects. I stand there in the paint aisle procrastinating because I just don’t know. This is the perfect cheat sheet! Thank you
This is such a detailed article! I’m thinking about painting my bedroom dark blue but am still hesitating because my parents advise me against it ;;-;; What do you think? And what kind of paint finishes should I use, eggshell or satin? Thanks a lot and keep fighting!
I’d stick with eggshell especially for a dark color. Satin may be too glossy for a bedroom where you want to create a peaceful space.
Thank you so much for this!
I would love to have your opinion. I repainted our guest room in a flat paint that was said to be washable. It looks pretty but seems pretty fragile. It chipped a bit when a piece of furniture bumped into it and it doesn’t seem to wash well (life with little children….). As I’m considering painting other bedrooms, I’m wondering if I should repaint this one as well as the others in a semi gloss. Perhaps too shiny for sleeping spaces? But with little ones running around i wonder if it would be longer lasting and stay fresh looking. I’d like to be both practical and tasteful. What do you think?
Beca, I don’t think I’d use a semi-gloss for bedrooms as you’re right that it might feel too shiny and you want bedrooms to be calming. I’d use an eggshell (maybe satin) finish to make the walls more washable. Another idea if you’re really concerned with durability would be to add a chairrail. You could use a harder finish like semi-gloss on the lower half of the wall which gets most of the bumps, and a softer finish on top where your eyes can rest.
Aduke @ Aduke Schulist
This is a great list. I actually just re-did my laundry room and bathroom and I’m glad to see I picked the right kind of paint.. or shall I say the guy at the paint counter helped me choose 🙂
Oh goodness, I never knew there were so many paint finishes. At least I know which direction to take when I start my reno project.
So there IS a method to this madness! LOL. I always stuck to lower gloss/matte paints because I think smudges show up easier on glossy paints, but this actually makes a lot of sense!
This is a great guide for people are thinking of redecorating their homes. I always liked the eggshell finish, it’s perfect for the living room.
The infographic is so amazing. I personally love Satin Finish.
I have to ask what would be the best paint for what room. I am the type that takes forever to chose a color! I have learned a lot from your post! Thank you for the excellent tips on paint!
Wendy, I always look for paint that will look good the longest, which means washable for high traffic rooms
Lexie @ mommyhomemanager.com
This is a great simple cheat sheet. I always just ask the paint person at the hardware store his or her opinion. haha.
If you’re at a real paint store, not a box store, then you’re probably okay. However I’d discuss it with them for several minutes to make sure they’re thinking it through vs throwing out a safe answer.
We use to have our own painting business and eggshell was the best for hiding imperfections in the wall surface. Great list.
Thanks Tammy, Always nice to get confirmation from professional painters. What are you doing now? and I’m asking as I’m always looking for home pros to share their stories here.
We stopped painting a few years ago but we use to rehab homes and then when we moved we started painting interior homes. We got slammed in 2008 and we needed to re coop what we had lost.
Peachy @ The Peach Kitchen
When it comes to paints finishes, I only know glossy and matte. I had no idea there were so many kinds of finishes.
Wow, I might have thought flat & glossy …
I always have a hard time when it comes to choosing what finish and this post is very helpful. Learned a lot! Bookmarked this post for future references. Thanks again!
Terrific Ayesha, Good luck & hope it’s easier for you in the future …
This is so helpful. Bookmarked this for future ref. Thank you for sharing.
I love all the different finishes. I always have such a hard time picking when it comes to putting it on things.
Hopefully my infographic will make it easier for you to pick the right finish without worrying …
This infographic is very helpful to choose paint. I ‘ll also pin it for later, thanks! Happy New Year!
This is helpful! We’ll eventually be re-painting areas in the house.
Wish I would have had this 2 year ago when we were painting our new home. I was completely and totally unaware of what finish went where. Thanks for this post!
This is an informative post about paint. I always pick semi gloss as I love the shine but I never really gave the other ones much thought so thank you for sharing and I will sure to save this for any future room painting.
I always struggle with finding the right paint, it’s so stressful. We tend to choose paints that are washable. I’ll save this post for the future!
This is a fantastic post! I’m about to start some home projects and painting is on my list. It’s always hard to decide what direction you want to go with the painting when you DIY, so this really helps
Misty, Glad to help out & try sticking to same ceiling & trim paint throughout the house, to minimize the number of paint cans you have to store.
This is going to be so helpful. I pinned it so I know where to come back for it. Thanks for putting it out there.
I love this! Iam currently picking out paints etc to decorate my house, Iam also going to be painting my units very soon so this has definatly helped me!
Good advice for choosing paint finishes. I always wondered where it would look best to use the satin and gloss finishes. Thanks for the advice!
Blanca N Valbuena
Damn, I could have used this guide ages ago. Going to the paint store takes me hours. First hour picking colors, the second half deciphering what the different types mean. Thanks
Hopefully going to the paint store in the future will be more fun …
We love repainting our walls almost yearly. I just chose the color and hubby decide what kind of finish he wants. Now I can decide both using your chart above. Thanks for sharing!
Wow, can’t imagine painting every year but if you love it, why not.
I was so naive to the different finishes until we repainted every room in our house this past year. It really does matter and make a difference!
Brittany, Sounds like you’ve learned how to pick paint finishes & hope you’re enjoying all your new colors/textures.
This was a very helpful tip for all those who wanted to paint their own house and didn’t know about that Recommended Paint Finishes to have in every room.
Perfect as I want everyone to love the results of their painting efforts & texture has a role in that.
You save my life with this post! I’m about to redecorate my house and I want to paint every room but I didn’t know this. Thank you!
I love me some satin paint. I’m super selective with my paint texture whenever there’s an area to paint in my house
So glad you realize it’s important to consider texture when picking your paint.
This chart helps me to understand how to choose paint. Too often I will choose semi gloss as I like shiny things
Tara, Your semi-gloss strategy is probably fine except for old walls that have lots of damage you want to hide … and not sure about ceilings?
Thank you SO MUCH for this! I have pinned it for future reference! Your infographic made it all so simple!
Glad you liked the infographic as I just did it & now trying to adopt for other “how to” articles
I live in a rental studio (bachelor) apartment. Since the rooms are not divided, just wanted to ask if there is only one type of paint finish that can be applied on all walls in this case. Please kindly advise
Hi Patty, The sheen is always a balancing act between look versus ease of cleaning. Look at your floor plan. Which walls & how many will get brushed up against, and how often? If you’re the only one in your apartment 99% of the time, and you’re careful … you can probably go with a lower sheen like eggshell. If however, you have lots of people and/or kids in your apartment, then you’ll probably want a tougher finish that’s easier to clean like satin. Good luck & send us photos (before & after) to share.
What finish should I use to paint over a cream accent table ? I’m going to paint it black.
Char, Similar to picking the finish for walls, you want to consider the look you want for your table and how much wear & tear it will get. Gloss or semi-gloss finishes will take more wear but they’re shiny. If you want something not so shiny, satin will give you a nice matte finish and you can protect it with a clear polyurethane topcoat.
Read your original post & left suggestions there to try some chalkboard paint for your kids, so that you’re directing where they’re going to leave their hand prints (artwork) on your walls. You can also use multiple paint colors & finishes when separating sections of your walls (for my handyman business, we used this approach so we didn’t have to paint ceilings that spanned multiple rooms) with wood trim like handrails and picture framing below the rail.